Scammers – Learn the Signals Before They Take Your Last Dime

In this episode, Lisa Shoalmire and John Ross introduce us to several signs to help us recognize when scammers are sizing us up!

Episode Transcript
Lisa
Welcome to a new edition of Aging Insight. I'm Lisa Shoalmire and I'm here with my partner and my co-host, John Ross, and we are elder law attorneys based here in the Ark-La-Tex, and we bring this program to you every week in order to provide you with information so that as you age, hopefully you can make plans so you don't go broke, so you don't enter into a nursing home facility if you don't want to and that you can remain as independent and not a burden on your family as we age into our golden and retirement years. Today, John, what I wanted to talk about is one of the important things that is a good cushion and a hedge against some of the more difficulties in aging, it has to do with having that nest egg and a little security, a little money in the bank. If you've got that security in that nest egg, then a lot of times, you can provide for at-home care, you can work with your family to make sure that you get the supports you need as you age in place. But if something happens to that nest egg, then a lot of times, that leaves you adrift and insecure. And one thing we see over and over again are scams that target seniors because most scam artists know that lots of seniors have saved for a rainy day and they have some assets that are worth getting to.
John
Yeah, that's right. If one of your goals is to not go broke between now and the time you leave this world, you've got to hold onto those assets and not lose them to scam artists. These scam artists that are out there are very, very good at what they do. And a lot of times when you think about scams, when you think about it in your mind, you think of criminal action, but it doesn't have to be. There's lots of different types of scams out there, some of them are perfectly legal, but they're still robbing you of your money or making your money inaccessible to you. What we're gonna do today is we're gonna spend some time talking about some of the different types of scams that are out there, just so you'll be aware of them and know to be on the look out for these sorta things.
Lisa
Well John, one of the biggest assets a lot of seniors own is their home. A lot of times, a senior has paid that 30-year mortgage off and they now have the security of having that home free and clear, and scam artists know that. A lot of times, the home is something that is targeted by scam artists and we've seen a couple of different targets in this direction. Number one, they will say that your home is a home that has an over-65 exemption for tax purposes and you get a letter in the mail, and it looks very official. And the letter says, "We can get your home reassessed for tax value," or, "There has been some activity related to papers filed in the county with your home. So if you'll send us so much money, we'll get you a copy of these papers or if you'll pay us so much money, we'll get a reevaluation of your home done." And all of that is just a scam.
John
Right. Many of these cases are what we would call "legal scams" because for example, if you could go down to the County Clerk's Office and pick up a copy of your deed and pay the county, say $15 or $20 for the copy of that deed. If somebody sends you a letter and says, "It's very important that you have a copy of your deed and you need to double check it pretty frequently, so send us a $100 and we'll get you a copy." All you're doing is overpaying, and now it's perfectly legal, but it's a scam. You gotta watch out because a lot of these will make their letters look very official, they'll actually look like maybe they came directly from the County Office. So be very careful. If the letter seems to be... If it looks like it's related to an official organization like the County Office or the Federal Government, feel free to call them and ask and see if whatever that letter is that you got, really came from them or if they know what it is.
John
A lot of times, they'll be aware of these scams. We've seen some of these in our office, especially related to the County Clerk's Office and the first thing we do is call the County Clerk to let them know that these scam artists are out there. If you call the County Clerk, then you can confirm that, but now be careful. When you're calling the County clerk, don't use the number that they put on their little scam letter. Chances are that's not calling the County Clerk. Get out the phonebook, get on the internet, whatever, and look up the organization that this supposedly came from. And if it doesn't sound right, have it looked at by somebody else. Contact an elder law attorney and have them take a look at it, just to make sure that it's legitimate.
Lisa
And John and I have said a couple times that these letters look very official. Believe me, we have to look twice, three times, five times, at a letter sometimes because the scam artists are that good. So if you're looking at it, don't be ashamed that if you get taken in by it. Don't feel like you're dumb and didn't know the difference. Believe me, these folks know exactly how to get to you, and they're very sophisticated. So it's not a failing on your part. It's just that they have honed their skills to take advantage of you and your money. John, what other kind of scams?
John
There are lots of different types out there. Probably one of the big ones... We've done another episode on Medicare. Medicare is terribly confusing, and especially with all of the new stuff with the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. All of the different rules that are coming out. And one of the things many scammers have been doing is calling people and saying, "Hey, I work for Medicare, and because of your recent hospital stay, there's some issues related to your coverage. And if you'll just provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number, etcetera, etcetera." And what they're doing is they're using... They're getting you to give that information, so they can steal your identity.
John
So if somebody is calling you related to Medicare, call the hospital, call the doctor. You should have a statement that talks about those charges. If they're trying to sign you up for insurance, don't just believe anything that somebody off the phone tells you. Go find you a local, reputable agent. Somebody you know and trust. Again, call your friends, talk to them, get recommendations, but don't ever give your personal information like social security numbers and date of birth to somebody on the phone that you've never met before. Most organizations would never ask for that if they're a legitimate organization.
Lisa
That's right, and there's plenty more scams for us to talk about, sadly. So we're gonna take a little break, and when we come back, we're gonna talk about some other scams that we have seen your friends and neighbors get taken by.
John
Hi, I'm John Ross, elder law attorney and board member for the Alzheimer's Alliance, and welcome to Our Place. Our Place is a day program designed to provide rest and relief for the caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and related dementias. Our Place is a safe environment where our friends benefit from socialization in a home-like environment. Alzheimer's is devastating, and affects over 17,000 families in our area. To find out how Our Place can benefit you, please visit our website.
John
How many of you have ever sat there and watched them bring that big check and knock on somebody's door, and they open the door, and they get all excited because they just won a sweepstakes. Or maybe you saw on the news where somebody won that big lottery. Well, this is one of the big scams that are out there, is fake lotteries and fake sweepstakes. And I've seen several of these in my own practice.
John
Where somebody, and basically this is how it works. You get a letter, or a call, or an email, or something. And they say, "Congratulations, you've won." Maybe you've won the Canadian Lottery, or a sweepstakes that's based in Jamaica. Or something out there. And all you've gotta do is call a number to claim your prize. And when you call that number, they'll say, "Oh yes, you have won this giant lottery. And I'm sitting right here holding a check for a $100 million," or some other crazy amount, "And I'll send that to you. But the problem is, there's a tax. And you've gotta pay the tax before you can get the money. So if you'll just send a big check, then we can send you a much bigger check." Well, you know what? It's a scam. There is no lottery, there is no sweepstakes out there that requires you to pay money to receive the prize.
John
So if somebody is on the phone, if somebody is sending you a letter and they're saying, "Give us money so that we can give you your sweepstakes, or your prize, or your lottery winnings," they're not legitimate. And of course, think about it. If somebody calls you and says that you've won the Canadian Lottery, have you ever bought a Canadian Lottery ticket? Probably not. And so look for those red flags out there. Think about it before you get too excited about those lottery winnings.
Lisa
Yeah, we certainly seen that over and over again. And we've seen folks, they're chasing that big prize, that big payday, and they have sent thousands of dollars, thousands of dollars, off to people they've never met before. And if they can get the money from you the first time, they'll keep calling and say, "Oh, that amount of tax that you paid didn't quite cover it and they did another calculation and we actually need another $300." And so it never ends, but the bait is on the hook, and they know they've got you as the fish chasing after it and so they'll just keep calling. A lot of folks just think, "If I just do it one more time, I'll really get that big check." And it just doesn't happen.
John
Well, I'll tell you what. One of the ones that I find to be the most despicable of all. Many of my clients, especially the older clients, are some of the sweetest, most wonderful people. And the scammers know it. And they know that those grandparents love their grandkids. That they love their great-grandkids. And there's several different tactics that they will use to trick people into thinking that maybe they are who they aren't. So for example, they might call up and say, "Well hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?" and you answer the phone, and you think, "I'm not sure, but maybe that's little Timmy." And so you say, "Well, is this little Timmy?" And they go, "Yeah, it's little Timmy!" and then they say, "Well, you know what, Granny, I'm in trouble. I got into some financial difficulties."
Lisa
"My car is broken down." Or, "My baby is sick and I need money for medicine." And the next thing they say is, they get more and more information out of that senior because the senior thinks they're talking to their grandchild. And next thing this scam artist who is posing as the grandchild will then ask that senior to send money by Western Union or some other type of quick way to send money. And say that, "Hey, I need this to get out of this crisis. And I need it now." And they hope that the senior will run out and send the money.
John
That's right. And the other way that this works is by playing on their fears for the health and safety and wellbeing of that child, grandchild, great grandchild. And these days with things like Facebook and Twitter, it's pretty easy to find out a lot about you. Who your family is, who you're related too. In fact, there's lots of websites out there where people can look up and pretty much figure out who's in your family tree. And so these scammers, one of the things they will do is maybe call the house. And they'll pose as a third party. So maybe they're somebody that works at the hospital, or maybe they're a police officer. And they'll say, "Well, I'm sorry, ma'am, I hate to tell you, but your granddaughter was in a car wreck and she wanted us to give you a call because she's being discharged from the hospital. But because of the car wreck, she has no transportation, she doesn't have any clothes. And she needs taxi money and a bus ticket and an airplane flight, so she can fly back home to you and meet you at the airport tomorrow. If you'll just go down to the Western Union and send us some money."
Lisa
Or better yet, "Do you have a credit card on you? If you could just read me that number and that security code on the back, then we can charge all this, and we'll take care of it right now."
John
One, the fact that you love those people and that you're concerned for them. But two, that there's some sort of emergency, that there's something out of control. If you get a call like that, you get a question like that, double check. Tell them you'll call them back, or something like that, and then call that grandparent's parent, or maybe their brother, or sister, or husband, or wife, but call around and make sure that the crisis that is being presented to you is a real crisis and not something some scammer out there is just making up.
Lisa
Well, alright, well we're still not done with this topic because there's more scams to discuss. So we're gonna to take another break and we'll be back in our final segment of this week's Aging Insight.
John
Hi, I'm John Ross, elder law attorney and board member for the Alzheimer's Alliance, and welcome to Our Place. Our Place is a day program designed to provide rest and relief for the caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and related dementias. Our Place is a safe environment, where our friends benefit from socialization in a home-like environment. Alzheimer's is devastating, and affects over 17,000 families in our area. To find out how Our Place can benefit you, please visit our website.
Lisa
Welcome back to Aging Insight, I'm Lisa Shoalmire, and I'm here with my co-host, John Ross, and we are elder law attorneys in the Ark-La-Tex, and we are here today talking about scams and con-artists that prey on our elderly. So we wanna educate you about what's going on out there. Well John, we've talked about a lot of scams where a con-artist uses the telephone to contact a senior, talk about an emergency, talk about there's a need for money right now. But telephone scams, that's old school, right?
John
Oh, yeah, yeah.
Lisa
Now, it still works, so they keep doing it.
Lisa
But the new school in scam artists is using the internet, email and the computers.
John
Yeah, that's right. When it comes to technology, it changes all the time. Those changes can be confusing, and it makes it so easy for those scam artists to reach out and touch you. Maybe it's because they've sent you an email. Some of the stuff that we've talked about here recently where for example you've won the lottery, or maybe you're the... There's a plaintiff in a lawsuit, and you've got a big award. My favorite is that your long lost great-great-great-uncle who lives in Nigeria has died and left you a gigantic inheritance. And I bet I get a scam email like that every day. Just delete those sort of things. Again, most organizations, most legitimate organizations will not ask for your personal information unsolicited. They're not gonna send you emails and say, "Send us your social security number." If you're getting emails from your bank, and it doesn't look right... If it's not in response to something you've sent, just be very careful out there.
Lisa
Yeah, that's one thing we hear is the scam where scam artists are looking for your banking information, that's often called phishing.
John
Right, spelled with a p-h.
Lisa
That's right.
John
Not with an f.
Lisa
So you get these emails and they look sort of like an email from your bank. But if you look at them closely, you will often see that the grammar is incorrect, there are misspellings, because oftentimes, these phishing emails are coming from scam artists that are located across the world, and English may not be there first language, and so the language in the email is a little off. So pay attention to those things. The other thing is, never respond to that email. If you feel it looks legitimate, then perhaps you write back and say, "Give me a contact number," or, "I'm gonna check with my local branch and I'll get back to you." But just because it's in writing, on the internet, does not make it true. And a lot of our seniors, they expect the best of people, they trust in people, and if they see something in writing, a lot of times, they think it must be true, and with the internet, the whole world can come into your living room, so be cautious.
John
That's right, there's certainly plenty of evil doers out there on the internet. So if you see something, if it looks a little suspicious, again, one of the easiest things to do is just ask somebody before you respond, before you open that attachment, before you send off that information, ask somebody. Ask a friend. Hey, maybe this is your excuse to call that teenage grandchild and have them come over. They probably know more about it than any of us. Well, there's one last type of scam that I wanted to talk about before we get out of here today, and this is related to what we do, as elder law attorneys. My job as an elder law attorney is to help you plan for the future, to help you navigate through long-term care, Medicaid, maybe VA benefits.
John
And this is complicated stuff. And there are some folks out there who for one way or the other have figured out that if they learn a little bit about this stuff, they can come out there and talk to you and say, "Hey, I hear that you've got somebody that's going to the nursing home, and I can help you get some extra money from Medicaid, or from the VA." But oftentimes, these people are using these complicated laws and their purported knowledge of these laws, as a way to get to your money. They're looking at... Whether they're a scam artist in the criminal sense, that they just wanna steal it, or whether they're just con-artists, maybe trying to sell you unnecessary insurance products, be very careful. If you're talking to somebody about Medicaid and they do not have a law license, they are committing a crime. And if you were referred to that person by say, somebody at the nursing home or something, they probably just committed a crime too. So be very careful out there. Don't talk to somebody about the VA if they're not authorized by the VA. Don't talk to Medicaid unless you're talking to an attorney who knows what they're doing. So as with anything, get good advice out there.
Lisa
Well, that's right, John. A lot of these folks that do assist seniors, we as elder law attorneys, we have to have licenses, and we're accountable to the state bar, and a lot of folks that are doing this on the fly, they're not accountable to anybody. So you wanna be careful about that.
John
Absolutely. So we'd love to hear if you've ever had any experience with this. If you've seen somebody else get scammed. It always helps us out, knowing what else is out there. So feel free to find us on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/aginginsight and tell us about your story. And of course, if you ever have any questions, you can always call us on our radio show, which is every Saturday on 107.1.
Lisa
That's right. And we appreciate you visiting with us this week, and learning a bit about the scams that our seniors are facing. And next week, we're gonna talk about care-giving in your home, and some different options you have for that. So we hope to see you next week.
John
Bye bye.

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